UCA turns memorial tree into bear sculpture

A tree that was originally planted in the memory of University of Central Arkansas alumni who served in World War II will get new life as a sculpture at the University of Central Arkansas, according to a university news release last week.

Gary Keenan, a sculptor from Iowa, has begun using a chainsaw to carve the tree in front of Wingo Hall into a life-sized bear. President Tom Courtway has been working to get the project under way since last year.

“I am very happy to be working with UCA on this project,” Keenan said in email Wednesday. “I will certainly give this project my best effort, as I hope anyone who sees it can enjoy the unique art form.”

Keenan has carved animals, profiles, plants and objects for individuals and groups nationwide and in Europe, according to the release. In 2007, he was invited to participate in the “Scuptree”/Westonbirt Festival of the Tree in England. Only 20 wood sculptors were invited, and Keenan was the only American.

UCA is paying Kennan $4,000 for the project, UCA spokesman Jeff Pitchford said in email.

Keenan expects to complete the carving, using a chainsaw, Thursday, according to the release.

Kennan has carved a bear before, according to photos on his Facebook page.

Earlier this week, a blue tarp was draped over the tree. A seven-foot section of the tree has been removed in preparation and UCA professor Bryan Massey plans to carve a bench out of the section in dedication to UCA’s WWII veterans, Pitchford said.

Art classes and community members can attend the sculpting. Seating will be available on the lawn near Wingo Hall. The university’s art gallery, Baum Gallery, will be open, and classes and individuals are also welcome to view other parts of campus.

Keenan said he is proud to work on art directly related to WWII veterans, and appreciates their service. He is ready for the project, he said in email.

“I’m looking forward to firing up the chainsaws next week and turning the large oak stump into a bear,” Keenan said.

To visit the campus during Kennan’s visit, please contact Erica Ruble at 450-3170. For more information about Keenan, visit www.carvingbykeenan.com.

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